Tag Archives: Karoo

Sheep For Sale

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There are huge old trees in Ganora’s gorgeous gardens. The kind that have cradled generations of Karoo farm children in their boughs  –  for voyages to sea, Secret Society meetings, and the occasional sulk. I’m sure they still do, but on the hot, blue-skied day we were there, they were just standing around on the lawn providing shade for the around seventy farmers. Mostly men, in varying shades of khaki and plenty of blue (don’t accuse me of not catering to dedicated followers of fashion: blue is this year’s colour for farm-wear. And probably last year’s, and next year’s, I’ll stop there), and they were all talking Sheep.

You see, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited to the annual ram auction at Ganora, a ridiculously beautiful farm outside Nieu Bethesda that is not only a working sheep farm, but has fossils, ancient rock paintings, superlative guest rooms by all reports, and lovely owners, the Steynbergs. I stray though. This day was about the sheep.

Down on the bottom terrace, the farmers milled about between the rams (also milling about as much as they could in their enclosures, and slipping out at any opportunity to run amok amongst the humans). After being offered tea and an array of delicious snacky bits, including sweet and sticky koeksisters  – Karoo gasvreiheid is beyond compare  – I watched in fascination as they looked in the sheep’s mouths, examined their woolly jerseys and made notes in their auction booklets, of which I could make neither head nor tail (see what I did there). All I can say is that there is obviously a complicated science behind it.

And then it was auction time. We all piled into the shed and the auctioneer started the sale, his call as strange as that of *something that talks very rythmically and very fast*. Sorry, but I just spent an hour down a Google search wormhole trying to find a Karoo animal that sounds even vaguely like it, but couldn’t. Luckily I recorded it, see below. It’s a weird, on-edge-meets-lullaby feeling, watching (and listening to) an auction.

The very handsome ram gets put in a pen in front of the auctioneer (facing the room of buyers) for all to see, he explains their good points, the hammer drops and then it’s quick-quick, as farmers vie with each other, raising their hands, showing their numbers, being spotted by the spotters (dudes that stand on each side of the auctioneer watching for any missed raised hands, and shouting when they see one). Each ram went for anything between R6 000 and R16 000. I held my breath and didn’t scratch my nose until the hammer dropped for the sale each time, in case I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a ram. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a sheep, but I fear the sheep wouldn’t love my city garden. And, Dwayne.

Once the auction was done, the prices paid, the rams back out in their pens waiting to go to their new homes (and meet their new lady sheep), we all retired back onto the lawns in the shade and enjoyed lunch  –  braais creaking under the weight of the chops being cooked on them, delicious, fresh salads and ice cold beer. Remember the gasvryheid I mentioned earlier? This is gasvryheid on steroids.

We all know I’m already a huge fan of the Karoo, but the more time I spend there, the more I get to experience the inner-workings of the land, the more of a fan I become. There’s a whole world going on out there, a sometimes tough and harsh world, but it’s a world with a gentleness, an unhurried passion, that one doesn’t see in the city. Here, on these farms, your work really is your life, and it’s hot and unrelenting, but it’s done under huge, clear skies on vast plains with so much air to breathe. And there are such lovely people (and sheep, and dogs, and ground squirrels, and, and …) all scattered about.

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Get A Grip

A plastic bag blew across the road, American Beauty-esque. A KFC bag. A harsh reminder of where we were heading. Back to the city, plastic-bedecked. It blew from the cliff-face on the right, across the road, and down into the breathtaking Huisrivier’s Pass on the left, the Karoo stubble changing rapidly into green-tree’ed mountains that dropped dramatically, spilling blushing aloes into the Huisrivier below. We were no longer in the Eastern Cape.

A car parked in the lay-by, a father holding his son, as they peer into the valley. Beautiful humanity.

I berate myself for being such a spoiled brat. Poor me, having to leave my beloved Karoo, with its cloud-spattered, enormous blue sky and warm people, to come back to the City Beneath the Mountain, where so many of the people that I love live. Where I am extraordinarily lucky to be loved, to love.

Get a grip, Privilege Girl.

But, but, I can’t breathe when I can’t see the stars. When the sky doesn’t stretch to forever.

In The Middle Of Nowhere

In the Middle of Nowhere

In the middle of the beautiful, arid, plains of the Great Karoo lies a fertile valley in which a tiny population live, a population of people I have come to love. It’s the place that makes my heart swell, where I can breathe. The first time I drove into this tiny, magical, place – years ago now – my entire being wriggled with joy. It felt like home. It still does, each time I go back. My going back becomes more and more regular.

Nieu Bethesda.

I had to put that paragraph first. Like my Castle Lite drinking, I must be completely honest about where I’m coming from. The non-expert, but highly opinionated mind, reviews of craft beer that I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write. I love the place, anything that comes from there has an angel-like glow to it in my eyes. Now you know.

Over the river, on the hillside, lies Two Goats Deli and the Sneeuberg Brewery. Andre Cilliers lives there with his family and herd of goats for the goat’s cheeses he makes. Him and his wife have three sons, who ride bareback through the town, an idyllic childhood from a storybook. Thing is, this is real. The goats are a bit stupid, though, as he says. And he doesn’t only have goats. He works really, really, hard.

But I need to write about the beer he brews. Three delicious ales he makes using the water from the natural spring that runs throughout the year in the village. He adds no preservatives or additives, just malt, hops and… urm… the essential beer ingredients. Hey! I’m still learning.

We went in December (for the gazillionth time) and sat beneath the trees in the garden (a welcome relief from the beating Karoo sun) drinking the beers and eating goat’s cheese and kudu salami with relishes and home-baked bread. Bliss.

First, my favourite, the Karoo Ale. It’s golden, like the hills that surround Nieu Bethesda at sunset (I know, I know… I can’t help being mushy) and is crisp and refreshing, with a good amount of the bitterness beer needs.

Then there’s the Honey Ale, which smells like honey and has a distinct honey aftertaste. It’s gentle and always reminds me of Maya the Bee. Oh dear, that gives away my age again, doesn’t it? It’d definitely be(e) her choice, were she a beer drinker.

The third one he makes is a dark, roasted ale, which is my second best. It’s not as heavy as many of the other dark ales that I’ve tasted, but perhaps I’m biased by drinking it in my favourite place on earth.

They’re available on tap at the brewery, and in bottles, and it’s worth making a little trip into the middle of nowhere to get it. This middle of nowhere also boasts the best bookshop I’ve ever been in, Dustcovers. And some amazing artists. Oh, and there’s the Owl House, too, which would need its own post, and is the main attraction to visitors to the town. Go. Book yourself in for a night or two, there are plenty of places to stay, and you’ll want to have a second, and third beer, believe me. Staying overnight is necessary.

As a visiting salesman said to me – slightly too close to my face for my liking, but I liked his prose so I let it be – in The Ramstal Pub one evening after spending the afternoon at the Sneeuberg Brewery:

“I took my first sip of that ale and I felt like angels were pissing on my tongue.”

(Sorry Mum, if you’re reading this, I’m just quoting him.)

This piece was written for Land ‘n Sand.

Looking Back

Warning: more navel-gazing ahead. Very MeMeMe at present.

This time last year I was travelling through the Karoo, with the sky opening above, expanding exponentially with the distance we got from the city. I could feel my lungs opening, my heart swelling. At that point, though, I had no idea of how those seven weeks in that magical place would affect me. How they would give me the space to think, to breathe, to rediscover myself, to write and write and to become friends with the most fabulous motley crew of people who are lucky enough to call that place home.

I returned to the city seven weeks later with every intention of going back, on a more permanent basis. But, as is wont to happen, the powers that be threw a whole bunch of reasons to stay a while longer in the city at me – love, life, death, the whole bang-shoot. The powers that be, apparently, don’t do things to me with half-measures.

I’m not complaining, I’m just stating. What is a life without falling in love, flying into the wind, changing course, somersaulting through? Boring, that’s what. A year down the line I look back at what has passed since I returned and I am amazed by the rollercoaster of the past twelve months, and exhilarated.

The highs have been higher than I could’ve dreamt of, blissful and carefree and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands (metaphorically speaking, otherwise that would just be sticky); the lows almost unbearable, choking me, making it hard to breathe.

But I’ve lived to tell the tale, and I feel stronger for it, mostly. In the corner of my room a grey mist still swirls menacingly, and sometimes wraps itself around me, leaving me sad and breathless. I’m trying very hard to blow it away, though, with the fresh, rapidly-warming spring air that’s fluttering through my open window.

Belonging, Night Skies, and a Concert

I am a Small Town Girl. As much as I appreciate the beauty and the vibrancy of Cape Town, if I don’t get out of town regularly I begin to not be able to breathe. With everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, the claustrophobia became unbearable and a trip to my favourite place on earth seemed the only way to survive. So we went, and I breathed, as my head filled with stories. Here’s one:

It was smoke-breathing cold on Saturday night at The Tennis Club. Outside, that is. Inside the old school hall which is now the Tennis Club pub, was a roaring fire and chairs set out in higgledy-piggeledy rows, filled with warm, chatty people, waiting for the annual ‘Local is Lente’ display of local talent.

‘Coming in from the cold’ worked, both literally and metaphorically, as we were greeted like old friends. Once we’d settled in behind Thea and Julliette, who were next to Casper and Annette, who were behind… you get my drift – this is a place where everybody knows your name, and you, theirs – with large glasses of red wine and hot dogs, the show began, to titters of excitement.

For a town with a tiny population, this place has talent – from the MC, Martin, who is really funny (and can sing), to Oom Willie dressed in stilettoes miming to Tina Turner (he has damn fine legs, and there’s another story in that one – shopping for stilletoes in Pep, Graff Reinet comes with a great story attached), to Emma Haines’ angelic voice, to the three ladies from Pretoria who went from dour ou vroue to prancing-dancing ‘It’s Raining Men’ superstars, the applause was uproarious.

Add to that some mime, the handing over of the ‘Tit of the Year’ award from Nico to Bruno for – literally – shooting himself in the foot, and some great dancing from Casper and Annette, the show was fabulous. Warm, funny, and with so much support. We had to drag ourselves away, as we were leaving early the next morning.

Turning to Gouni as we left, our breath making wisps in the icy air, I said: “I feel like I belong.”

It was a good feeling, as we headed down the dusty road, a star-flung night sky that left us breathless in wonder. Oh, Karoo, how I love you.

Serendipitiously, I saw this, this morning. Thanks Graeme.